As he took the checkered flag at Dover International Speedway on Sunday, Jimmie Johnson didn’t have Chase for the Sprint Cup rivals Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch on his mind.
He was more preoccupied with Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Bobby Allison.
Johnson dominated the AAA 400 on Sunday, winning for a record eighth time at Dover and breaking a tie with Petty and Allison for the most wins on the Monster Mile.
“It’s really cool. I’m not sure I’ve ever done what Richard Petty hasn’t,” said Johnson, after his fifth win of the season and 65th of his career. “Truthfully, it was the first thought that went through my mind when I crossed the finish line.
“It wasn’t long after I thought of the impact of winning in the Chase, wondering where the 20 (Kenseth) was.”
Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet overpowered the field by leading 243 of the 400 laps and beat teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. by a comfortable 0.446 seconds. He moved into second place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, eight points behind Kenseth, heading into next Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400, the fourth stop in the Chase at Kansas Speedway.
The last two times Johnson, a five-time Sprint Cup champion, won a Chase race at Dover he won the championships in 2009 and 2010.
Kenseth, who had won the first two races of the Chase, finished seventh in the Joe Gibbs No. 20 Toyota. Busch slipped to third place in the standings, 12 points behind his teammate Kenseth despite finishes of second, second and fifth on Sunday.
Joey Logano in a Penske Ford was third, followed by Jeff Gordon in a Hendrick Chevrolet as Chase drivers claimed all top 10 finishing positions for the first time in the 10-year history of the Chase.
Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, was just as enamored with his driver’s place in history.
“It’s pretty spectacular every time I hear Jimmie’s name mentioned in the same sentence as Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Dale Earnhardt Sr. … all the guys who have done so well throughout the history of our sport,” Knaus said, “to be able to one-up those guys right now is pretty spectacular.”
Johnson held a lead of nearly 5 seconds when NASCAR called the fourth caution of the race for debris in the form of a spring rubber that had dislodged from a car and landed on the concrete racing surface in Turn 3.
During the pit stop, Knaus chose to change right-side tires only, while Earnhardt’s crew chief, Steve Letarte, opted for a four-tire change. But it wasn’t enough to overtake Johnson.
“That’s real disappointing,” Earnhardt said, “but Jimmie is really that fast. He’s that good around this place. I thought we might be able to get to him, and I was definitely going to do whatever I could to win if I could get within reach. But I just couldn’t get to him.”
Clint Bowyer of Emporia, Kan., finished 10th and moved two spots to eighth in the Chase, 51 points behind Johnson. Carl Edwards of Columbia, who entered the race fourth in the standings, took his car to the garage on lap 377 with a broken hub, finished 35th and fell to 11th in points, 65 out of the lead.
“We needed to hang on for a solid finish and something broke,” Edwards said, “so that’s tough.”